The Gem State has an infinite selection of shimmering lakes pooling in its high country, but perhaps the crowned jewel is Redfish Lake. Benched six miles above Stanley, Idaho, and framed by 10,000’ peaks, the five-mile-long lake is a popular playground for adventurers seeking respite from the summer heat.
The Transfer Camp is a secret even among seasoned Idahoans, and a way to get away from the crowds. With outdoor options to suit everyone’s needs, it’s worth going out of your way. Here’s how to camp like a local at one of Idaho’s finest alpine playgrounds.
Camping fee – $12; Crowds – Low; Difficulty – Easy but remote; Tent sites – 16; Group sites – 8; Dogs – Allowed; Fire pits and picnic tables – Yes; Bathrooms – Yes; Showers – No; Water – Purify your own; Season – Summer
The Route: While Redfish Lake’s north shore caters to nearly every amenity (there’s a full-service lodge and marina with wi-fi, a restaurant, and rental boats), the remote (and relatively unknown) south shore is a six-mile trail. If you don’t want to walk, a summer boat service runs the 10-minute route five times a day between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week.
You can shuttle gear from a temporary lot to the marina, then park in the overnight lot nearby. The shuttle boat will bring you to the Transfer Camp dock on the lake’s south shore, where it’s a 100-foot walk to the first camp or a short hike across a footbridge to the upper camp.
The crux: While the shuttle service makes this a near drive-up experience, it is still remote and slightly committing. If you miss the last boat ride back, you’re either hiking out or waiting for the first morning shuttle.
The Transfer Camp is first-come, first-served, and the weekends see a spike in activity. (The camp still had spots available the weekend after July 4th for my family.) A midweek launch will give you an upper leg on choice sites.
To gauge the activity and reserve a boat ride, call the marina at 208-744-3536. They document all boat traffic in and out of the south shore campground and can provide information on how many people might be currently at the camp.
When to go: Snow conditions dictate the start of the camping season at Redfish, which sits at 3,500 feet. Things generally pick up in mid-June and will steadily roll into Labor Day, after which the shuttle will run by demand or reservation.
Details: As of 2015, the shuttle will set each adult back $10 one-way ($16 round-trip); $4 (each way) for children under six; and $3 (each way) for dogs. Camping is $12 per site per night, paid at the self-service pay station in camp.
The Transfer Camp sits just outside a wilderness area. If you plan to venture into the wilderness, pick up a wilderness permit at a backcountry box just outside the campground. Fido is welcome to join you, but bring a leash between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Getting there and getting stocked: For out-of-staters, the nearest city is Boise, where you can rent a car to make the three-hour drive to Stanley. Provision in Boise, though Stanley has services to support throngs of thrill seekers. (Stanley is also the departure point for the must-do Middle Fork of the Salmon River.) In a pinch, a small general store can supply you with last-minute necessities.
Amenities: The Transfer Camp is family-friendly, with designated burn pits, picnic tables and a pair of toilets. Trashcans are provided, but you’re encouraged to pack out your garbage.
Gear: The shuttle can carry as much or as little as you want; we managed to bring a big tent, two coolers, a two-burner stove, camp chairs for everyone, fishing rods, a packraft and several bags of clothing. We saw some parties outfitted for two weeks, with paddle boards, sea kayaks, dining room nets and supplies for a 10-day reunion.
Choose your own adventure: Redfish Lake’s south shore is beachfront property for both the casual camper and avid adventurer. Walk the meandering trails that serpentine through shaded old growth, or kick it up a notch on the17-mile, bike-friendly trail that circles the lake. Hundreds of miles of wilderness trails duck deep into the Sawtooths immediately off the camp. The main trail south follows the creek up into Idaho’s foremost big wall valley. Elephant’s Perch, a classic monolith, has several technical lines, including a 5.11 Becky route etched directly up its central face.
Redfish Lake Creek pours out of the Sawtooth Range, cutting a line through the granite slabs via technical Class IV whitewater down to the lake, where lunker trout await dinner to be flushed out with the runoff.
So pack your bags, stay a while—and make the quiet and secluded Transfer Camp home base for your Redfish adventures.
A version of this article by Steve Graepel first appeared in GearJunkie in September 2014. Photos by Steve Graepel. GearJunkie received payment for use of this story.
Published on October 9, 2015